Monday, March 15, 2010

Democrats: Just don't pretend you're not squeaking health care reform through

Democrats can sometimes be like Republicans and not realize how their approach to getting what they want can be seen as so brazen by those who don't buy into what they're doing.  Case in point: Health care reform bill passage.
Yes, the Dems did get a 60-vote majority in the Senate last year.  This 'officially' gives the House something to sign-off on and then send to the President to sign into law.  But, the 60-vote majority only came by literally buying off Senators and states with all kinds of unsavory deals.  Yes, I know -- unsavory deals are part of the legislative sausage making.  But these deals are really shabby.  Needless to say, without these deals in place, there would not have been 60 votes. 

Yet, there are 60 votes to work with.  But the House doesn't much like the sausage they are being delivered, so they want to modify it, improve it, and make it more tasteful so that they can get re-elected, too.  Unfortunately for Democrats, the nature of the Senate has changed and there will no longer be 60 senators ready to pass any new provisions the House introduces.

So, the Dems are stuck.  But not procedurally.  They have a solution.  It's perfectly legal and legit, but it's a procedural solution that feels like the back-alley way of getting to the next intersection.  Yeah, you'll get there.  But it won't be pretty, and it certainly won't be in style.

So, here's how it's going to work: The House will hold their noses, cross their fingers, and pass the smelly stinky, Senate bill as it stands today.  The President will sign this into law, and then the Senate will use a process called reconciliation (a straight majority process designed to tweak budget-level items, but not designed to set policy) to address all the concerns the House had with the bill they just passed -- including getting rid of all the give-aways and smellier parts of the bill that they just passed.  Reconciliation requires a straight majority vote: 51/49.  Much easier to pass than the super-majority votes for policy.  Once Reconciliation is done, the latest and greatest health care reform bill will be good to go. 

In other words, Health Care Reform 2.0 will be released within hours or days of 1.0.  This may be the fastest re-release in legislative history.

The end result will look very similar to the plan that President Obama introduced in February.  It will be better than the original Senate bill, but it will take the equivalent of legislative whiplash to get it there.

The Dems are pretty stoked that they can work this out.  And their fans are pretty happy that the Dems are finally ready to play to win.  But when the Republicans "play to win," Democrats cry foul.  This is hypocritical.  Most people would not be very surprised to see Republicans be as scrappy and savvy as feasible to win -- that's part of their brand.  But Democrats like to think of themselves as higher-order people -- people who don't have to play games to win.  In the case of passing health care reform, Democrats may be playing by the rules, but so did the Bush Administration when they made their case to go to war with Iraq.